Next, Ed must stand up to the Mail when it bullies the vulnerable
This is fun. For those of us who have always hated the Daily Mail, the last week has been, as one tweeter put it, “Christmasy”. It feels like the moment it turns out everyone else hates the school bully too. And so their cruel spell is broken. Let’s hope that Ed will keep being brave when they turn their ire to the next kid.
I have no doubt that Ed Miliband is standing up for his father because he loved him, because he doesn’t like seeing him slurred by a newspaper that was pally with the Nazis. But that his motives are honest doesn’t detract from the fact that this is good politics.
He has now neutralised any questions about his father which might have been hurled at him closer to the election, when the background noise would drown out any response. He has cast a shadow across Cameron’s conference speech, and he’s tripped up a key paper in the Tory propaganda machine for long enough for the big boys to pile in.
Most importantly, a week after he pledged to stand up to the powerful, he’s done just that. You can imagine the scene in the high school movie. The bully picks on a geek. The geek, to everyone’s shock, replies with a quick and cutting response. The whole class finally laughs in their tormentor’s face. He turns slightly pale, and stammers a lame response before rushing to hide his tears in the loo.
I assume (alas) Paul Dacre isn’t curled up on a filthy cubical floor, but Ed Miliband certainly has challenged one of Britain’s bullies. But I think it’s important to remember that confronting the powerful was only a half of Ed Miliband’s promise in his conference speech. He also pledged to stand up “for the weak against the strong”.
But Ed Miliband isn’t weak. And nor is the legacy of the father he is protecting. Ralph Miliband was a well known academic. When the Daily Mail lied about him, MPs retorted that he’d taught them, that he was a good man. When Dacre spewed nonsense about Ralph’s support for the USSR, the Times pointing to letters he wrote them criticising the Soviet Union, the Telegraph reprinted its warm obituary of him saying that: “Though committed to socialism, he never hesitated to criticise its distortion by Stalin and other dictators” and saying that he was “endowed with an infectious sense of humour”.
When Ed Miliband defends his dad, he is protecting the legacy of a great man, and of course he’s right to do it. But he is not standing up for the weak.
But it won’t be news to anyone to say that Prof Miliband is by no means the first to receive the Rothermere treatment. It’s good that Ed remembers that this is the paper which lambasted Jewish immigrants as they fled the Nazis. But this should cast a shadow on their ‘news’ stories about immigrants today just as it does on their hatred for one of those Jewish refugees. It is useful for Labour to highlight that this is the paper that published a piece last year calling on the French to elect a fascist president. But this is just as crucial to consider when thinking of its coverage of travellers this week as of its slating of a dead professor.
It’s a good thing that more people now know that the Mail’s founder, Mr Harmsworth, was a Nazi collaborator. But let’s question their values all of the time, not just when they infiltrate the funeral of a relatively powerful family.
Now, let me be clear. The Miliband family has been treated in an unforgivable way by a group of people who, were they alive in the 1930s, would most likely be encouraging us to support the nice man with the silly moustache. And it is great to see Ed telling them where to go. Whatever we think of Miliband’s centrism, the principle that we stand united against fascists should apply here too.
But if he wants to stand up for those with least power, then I hope we will see Miliband highlighting the next outrageous slur, the next racist innuendo, the next piece of homophobic abuse published on the pages of a newspaper that’s lent solace to Hitler, Mosley, and Le Pen. Because this is more than a family feud. This is the battle for Britain’s values. And it’s now too late for the Labour leader to call for appeasement.